London Tech Week addresses the opportunities and challenges of tech innovation as we navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
London Tech Week opened Monday June 10th with a key note address by UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, who announced that “British tech is growing over one and a half times faster than the rest of the economy,” and vowed to maintain the country’s position as a global leader in tech innovation, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI). Governments and businesses alike are taking AI seriously as revenue from AI services will increase from $6.7 billion (2016) to $188.3 billion by 2025, forecasts US Market Research firm, Tractica. While AI presents a massive opportunity for any business or entrepreneur with access to big data, their development of these AI services presents ethical and social challenges that must be considered and handled sensitively if they are to succeed in our increasingly automated world.
London Tech Week is an annual festival that boasts an impressive schedule of events, including the Leaders In Tech Summit at the Barbican, the CogX festival of AI and Emerging Technology in King’s Cross, and the festival’s flagship event, TechXLR8 (pronounced “Tech-ccelerate”). Hosted at the sprawling ExCel in Canning Town, TechXLR8 co-locates over 10 individual conferences covering everything from 5G to IoT, all of which are live-streamed via the TechXLR8 Digital Series.
In 2019, over 58,000 attendees from 95 countries attended 300 events and talks from speakers ranging from British entertainer Ricky Gervais to Facebook EMEA VP Nicola Mendelsohn, making this week-long tech festival the largest in Europe. Across the far-reaching breadth of content, three key themes echoed throughout this year’s event: AI is King, Data and Ethics, and Reskilling the Workforce. Following is our short-list of the most exciting projects discussed at London Tech Week that champion these areas.
AI is King
While London Tech Week covered many technologies, none were as hotly anticipated or widely discussed as AI. In addition to significant growth in AI services, Tractica forecasts that annual AI software revenue is set to increase from $9.5 billion in 2018 to $118.6 billion by 2025. Areas ripe for development include healthcare, security, and urban development where new businesses are rethinking traditional solutions with AI.
Unlocking the Power of Machine Learning
Included in the Forbes 30 under 30 panel at the AI Summit, Emil Hewage is the young founder of BIOS, the Cambridge-based neural engineering startup that is working to replace pharmaceuticals with AI-based treatments, tackling chronic lifestyle diseases via stimulation of our neural pathways. One of the biggest challenges in this budding area is the collection and processing of neural data, which is incredibly complex and wildly erratic. Harnessing the strength of machine learning to quickly and accurately identify patterns and applying it to the healthcare field has led to the company’s success. They recently raised $4.5 million in seed funding and their neural interface shows promise for correcting life-threatening problems like high blood pressure. As BIOS proves, machine learning presents a powerful solution for innovative challenges, regardless of industry.
AI as Cyber Defender
Cyber Defence is a burgeoning industry. Especially with rising concerns around data privacy, cyber defenses are gaining attention from consumers and businesses alike. CogX-presenting company Shape Security was ranked by Deloitte as the #1 fastest-growing company in California and named by Fortune magazine as one of the leading AI companies in 2018. Security companies like this are gaining significant traction as cyber attacks become more common and sophisticated. Director of Technology at Darktrace, Dave Palmer presented his talk, The Future of AI on Cyber Crime at the AI Summit. With 19 years of experience at UK intelligence agencies GCHQ and MI5, Palmer pointed to the Internet of Things (IoT) as the weakest link in any company’s technological armour and suggested that ambient surveillance using IoT devices in places like business conference rooms is widely employed. A cyber security consultancy, Darktrace develops AI programs that anticipate and circumvent these attacks.
The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority introduced the Silicon Park project, Dubai’s first ever smart city, at the Internet of Things World Europe Summit. Now in the final stages of completion, the office, commercial and residential spaces provide intelligent, sustainable solutions for waste management optimization and energy efficiency.
ArTem Ermolaev, who is responsible for digitising Moscow and the former CIO of Moscow, gave a detailed and captivating account at the AI Summit of the ongoing project to make Russia’s capital one of the first smart cities in the world. Outlining their ambitions for tackling illness, crime and social injustice all through digital technology, he recounted fascinating anecdotes like the self-proclaimed cultural proclivity for “crafty laziness” that had manifested itself as petty crime; delivery truck drivers were hijacking their GPS systems and abandoning the trucks for bicycles in order to sell the fuel on the black market. The city’s sophisticated surveillance systems, culminating in the employment of facial recognition cameras throughout the city by the end of the year, now undermine any such activity.
He also outlined a painstaking, methodical digital transformation strategy that began with basic foundational efforts, like bringing Moscow citizens online. He then described how they built more and more complexity into the ecosystem, converting their political, educational and healthcare systems into digitally-processed and analytically-driven services. While glaring issues of personal privacy were not addressed, the talk offered a compelling roadmap for any business considering injecting smart technology into their own existing frameworks.
AI and Ethics
One of the biggest talking points at London Tech Week was the issue of ethics when gathering and analysing data. UC Berkeley Computer Science Professor Stuart Russel summarised the problem best at CogX when he chastised the conference organizers for establishing an Ethics stage. Rather than highlighting it as an area of importance, he argued that the separation subtly demonstrated how the industry sees ethics as distinct from technology. Products and services are developed without considering their ethical implications from the onset. As a result, issues like unconscious bias, gender inequality, and personal privacy indiscretions are built into the algorithms that AI follows. Consumers are increasingly vocal about data privacy and protection. Businesses are starting to take head, with startups like BeApplied addressing unconscious bias in recruitment, and Synthesized combatting data privacy impropriety – both backed by tech heavyweights like Google. As Tick.Done founder Jess Butcher pointed out at The Leaders In Tech Summit, “ethics is not a premium, it is now an opportunity for digital businesses.”
Reskilling the Workforce
Across the myriad of industries presenting at London Tech Week, many called attention to employment growth in their technology departments. Facebook EMEA VP Nicola Mendelsohn announced they are creating 500 new tech roles in London alone. In fact, 20% of all job vacancies in the UK are tech-related positions (Tech Nation). Alongside this, businesses are expanding roles that have traditionally sat outside technology by incorporating mixed reality (MR), virtual reality (VR) and AI to offer better training to their employees, achieve greater efficiencies for their businesses, and develop superior products and services for their customers.
At the UK-China Artificial Intelligence Innovation and Development Forum, co-founder and director of UK-based Generic Robotics Alastair Barrow demonstrated how technology can be used to better train health professionals. A medical training software company, Generic Robotics uses interactive, haptic technology and VR to create real-world simulations in a safe environment without the need for actual patients.
TechXLR8 delegates were able to try for themselves a similar technology at the AR & VR World Summit, where the UK Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service showcased how it is using VR to train its staff to handle emergency situations. As VR and haptic technologies improve, and 5G rolls out with the processing speed to unlock their full potential, businesses have an opportunity to not only improve training but also simulate any environment, particularly for creative applications in sales, marketing and design.
The integration of MR is not just an enhancement to the original environment. Rather, it opens up new ways of working and creates new routes to innovation. Also at the AR & VR World Summit, Miquel Vidal, Innovation & Program Manager at CBRE, presented the augmented worker initiative in collaboration with Microsoft Hololens. CBRE is a worldwide leader in Workplace Consulting. They have initiated 12 different pilots using Microsoft’s MR technology to better enable their engineers and technicians working in a range of their clients’ mission-critical environments, such as R&D laboratories and data centers, to drive efficiency and productivity and deliver key operational outcomes. Vidal tells JWTIntelligence, “CBRE technicians can practice complicated tasks on vital machinery in a safe, mixed reality environment. Aside from the obvious benefits like cost reduction and improved uptime, we also find it improves engagement with our engineers.”
AI X Humans
Widely considered the best AI-application in customer service, US-based Interactions employs human “intent analysts” who take over from the AI voice assistance when it encounters a “confused utterance.” The live agent coaches the voice assistant (VA) by providing the correct answer and then hands the call back over to the VA. A patented ecosystem with humans in the loop, Interactions is proving successful, citing $100 million in new business revenue in 2018 alone. Clients include MetLife, Shutterfly, Constant Contact, TXU Energy and Kiwi.com.
Another business that attributes its success to its unique combination of human and AI-led service is eContext, a natural language intelligence business that helps brands and agencies make sense of unstructured data, like web browsing and search query data. From its inception in 2008, this semantic text classification engine has been human-curated. As a result, it is far richer and more nuanced, boasting a taxonomy of 510,000 terms and 21 tiers of depth, as opposed to a taxonomy of 1,038 terms and two tiers, as offered by its competitors like Google, IBM and Microsoft.
The key idea here is that AI doesn’t learn as well from simply analysing data. The failure of Micorsoft’s chatbot, Tay, in 2016 proves this. It lasted on Twitter only 24 hours due to its egregiously insensitive content. AI performs best when humans step in and teach the system in context. Any digital transformation strategy should consider how it can foster productive AI X Human interactions in order to better develop its AI products and services.